Here we go again on testing

Coronavirus Daily

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Here we go again on testing

A shortfall of Covid-19 testing is creating lines and delays, frustrating test-seekers and undermining efforts to contain the virus at a critical moment.

A story we published this week could as easily have been March or April. For months, we've been reporting about the gaps that have hobbled the U.S. virus response—challenges like limitations in crucial testing supplies that have been alleviated over time, but not solved.

Now, the hotspots are new: places like Texas, Florida and Arizona. Lines for testing extend out of urgent-care offices, and in Houston two high-school football stadiums regularly hit capacity by mid-morning and have to turn people away.

Testing in the U.S. has so far struck a "very delicate balance" when it comes to sufficient supplies and staffing, said Scott Becker, who leads the Association of Public Health Laboratories, "and that's why we're worried about the surge in testing in the next few weeks." Becker predicts that testing supply shortages will worsen in hot-spot areas, though he's hopeful the situation can get back on track in the coming weeks.

People wait to enter a Covid-19 drive-thru testing site in Miami on Tuesday.

Photographer: Marco Bello/Bloomberg

But it's not just supply—demand is different now, too. Early in the outbreak, with very limited testing, kits were often reserved for only the very sick. As Americans increasingly go back to work, eat out, get haircuts and gather socially, they're seeking out testing, whether they know they've been exposed or not. One 25-year-old interviewed in Austin, for instance, had booked an appointment after her boyfriend flew back from Colorado. She wasn't experiencing any symptoms, but wanted to be responsible.

This kind of widespread testing is what public-health experts have been calling for all along, as a means of catching new infections before they spread exponentially in the community. But U.S. testing infrastructure isn't where it should be—even so many months later.—Emma Court

Track the virus 

What 100 Years of Disease Tells Us About Covid-19

Though past outbreaks can't answer questions about Covid-19 such as when a licensed vaccine might be available, they can offer important insight into how diseases spread and sometimes resurge in second waves. Find out how.


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